A vivid white hat is fun, fresh and bold. You can be as careful as possible with your white accessory, but stains happen. And they'll ruin your stylish white hat, making it dingy or discolored. A stain doesn't mean it's time to put your white cap away for good, though. It's possible to clean a white hat and revive it to its previous stylish self.
Before you toss your hat in the washer and dryer, know that cleaning a white hat is a simple, but often delicate, process. Learn how to clean a white hat below to restore your favorite chapeau or take care of your collection.
Read Your Label
Before you start washing your hat, check the label for any restrictions or advice for cleaning. Some materials aren't bleach-safe, and you may need to wash others at specific temperatures. The label will tell you what materials are in your cap and the right washing methods. You should then adjust how you treat stains on your white hat to suit its materials. Common hat materials and the care they could need include:
- Cotton is a durable material that may withstand machine washing.
- Wool felt is sometimes suitable for wet washing methods.
- Regular wool should only get a hand-wash treatment.
- Polyester blends with cotton are durable for different washing methods.
- Toyo or paper-braid should only be spot cleaned.
- Straw can get a spot clean or hand-wash treatment with cool water.
- Leather and suede shouldn't get excessively wet.
One hat may contain different materials. That means washing instructions will vary between hats. Baseball cap visors, for instance, could be cardboard or paper, which should not get wet. Newer baseball caps may include washable materials, instead, like plastic. The tag tells you what will work for your hat based on its various components. And if you have a dry-clean-only cap, listen to the label! Leave it to the professionals to restore and clean your white hat.
You might also see information about the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) — aka sun protection — on your cap. Remember that multiple washes may decrease the effectiveness of the UPF rating, but gentle hand-washing may help the protection last longer.
For whatever reason, you may have a hat without a label. In that case, you'll have to do a bit of research. If you remember where you got the accessory, contact the shop. If not, look it up online to see what materials it contains or take it to a professional who can help.
Methods for Cleaning a White Hat
Depending on what the tag tells you, there are a few ways to get stains out of a white hat or clean it. Gentle methods are the best place to start when treating stains or cleaning your hat. Then, if you need to, work up to different methods if they're suitable for the material. Here are various methods for cleaning a white hat.
For a more delicate cleaning method for your white hat than the washing machine, try hand-washing. In general, you can hand-wash a white hat that consists of cotton, cotton blends, wool felt or synthetic materials. Remember, the label is the deciding factor, and other materials may recommend hand-washing, as well. To hand-wash a white hat, follow these general steps.
- Choose a cleaner: A small amount of laundry detergent, hydrogen peroxide or mild dish soap could work. Find detergent formulas that are suitable for hand-washing if you go that route. If you're trying to clean a white hat made of wool felt, use a detergent formulated for the material.
- Add the cleaner to water: Fill a clean sink, tub or bin with water. Use cool water for wool felt and warm — but not hot — water for cotton and cotton blends. Add either a tablespoon of detergent, a cup of hydrogen peroxide or a few drops of dish soap and stir the solution.
- Soak the hat: As long as your hat isn't a material that shouldn't have exposure to excess water, soak it. Agitate the hat a bit as it's soaking to get it clean. Be sure not to wring the hat in or out of the water.
- Scrub stains: Hand-washing is ideal for a refresh and general clean. If your hat has stains, work at them with a soft-bristled brush. A new toothbrush or clean, soft dish brush will work, depending on the material and the size of the stain. Be sure not to scrub too hard.
- Rinse the hat: Drain the water and cleaning solution and fill the container, sink or tub with clean water. Submerge the hat again and agitate. Drain the water and repeat this process until the water runs clear.
- Dry the hat: Once you've hand-washed your hat, let it air dry. Place it on a clean, dry, white towel or a drying rack. For knit hats and similar styles, roll them loosely in a clean, dry, white towel and press lightly to get out excess water. Unroll and leave out to dry.
To get stains out of a white hat, you don't always need to wash the whole thing, especially if it's a more delicate design. Spot cleaning may get rid of small marks. A handful of products could spot clean a white hat, and they're all household items. Be sure to do a spot test to ensure the cleaner does not discolor or damage your accessory.
- Hydrogen peroxide: Use a cotton swab, cotton ball, paper towel or white cloth to apply hydrogen peroxide to the stain. Work the hydrogen peroxide into the material with a soft, clean toothbrush. Let it soak into the hat for about 10 minutes, then rinse, air dry and see if the stain is gone.
- Distilled vinegar: Use distilled white vinegar as you would with hydrogen peroxide. Work it into the stain, let it sit, rinse and air dry.
- Dish soap: Dilute a few drops of mild dish detergent in water. Then, dip a clean, white cloth into the solution and spot clean as you would with the vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.
- Shampoo: If you have a mild shampoo without any dyes, try to spot clean with that. Dilute the shampoo in water and do a spot test. Then clean with a white cloth and air dry as you would with other cleaners.
- Baking soda: Make a thin paste with baking soda and water. Use a soft, clean toothbrush to spread the mixture onto the stains and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse the paste away, air dry and see if the stain is gone.
Using a clean, white cloth prevents adding stains to your white hat. A colorful cloth, especially a new one, could bleed its color onto your white hat and stain it. A dirty cloth could transfer the dirt or grease on it to your hat, as well.
Some stains may need a follow-up with hand-washing. Use mild detergents and warm water if you can with your hat's material. For yellowing from sweat, use the methods above or try an enzyme-based stain remover. Mix the stain remover into warm water and soak the hat or spray it right onto the stain if you don't want to soak it.
Toyo or paper-braid hats and other woven materials usually do not do well with water exposure. Instead, you'll have to brush the surface to remove dust and dirt. If you use a brush with stiff bristles, you may have an easier time removing stubborn dirt. Be careful not to press too hard, as you could bend, scratch or damage the hat in different ways. A soft-bristled brush will also work instead of stiff bristles, especially if the dust and dirt are superficial.
When brushing a white hat to clean it, remove hatbands or decorations if possible to avoid crushing them. If you can't remove the decorations on your hat, use a hairdryer on low and cool settings to blow away dust and dirt.
If you have visible stains that don't brush away on a straw hat, you could consider using a cleaning solution. Check the tag and see if it's safe to use liquids to clean your hat, then use a mild dish soap and water combination. Dip a clean rag into the mixture, but don't soak it. Take the damp rag and gently work at the stain, moving with the pattern of the straw material.
If you have a white leather hat or your hat has an interior band made of leather, sprinkle on cornstarch and let it sit for a few hours. Brush the cornstarch away, and use a leather conditioner if the material feels stiff.
Hand-washing and spot cleaning take time with tough stains, leaving you to wonder — can you put a hat in the washing machine? Cotton materials could be machine wash candidates, but only some styles survive the wash. Baseball caps in shapers are OK to machine-wash, as are Tilley brand hats, since they come with a lifetime warranty. Other styles could work, as well, like unformed options or bucket and boonie hats.
Not sure if your hat can handle the wash? Use spot cleaning and hand-washing instead to keep your hat's shape. If you can machine wash your white hat, follow these tips:
- Pretreat stains with laundry stain remover.
- Use cool or cold water.
- Set your washing machine to a delicate or gentle cycle.
- Wash your hat in a mesh bag designed for delicate laundry.
- Wash your hat on its own or with white clothing.
Make sure the mesh laundry bag you use is big enough to fit your hat without folding or crushing it. If you have a baseball cap, trucker cap or snapback hat, you'll find hat shapers designed for these styles. These hat shapers are often plastic, like the Ball Cap Buddy. It has a cage-like design shaped like a baseball cap, and either opens to hold the hat or grips onto the brim and front. Be sure to always use a hat shaper when machine washing your caps.
Try to use bleach as a last resort for stubborn stains. Only use this cleaner if your hat's tag says it's OK to use. Some fabrics may deteriorate with bleach, thus ruining your hat. If it's wool or features details in materials like silk or wood, avoid using bleach.
When you use bleach on a hat, use an oxygen-based product. Oxygen-based bleach can be gentler than chlorine bleach, which could damage fibers, but always refer to your hat's tag and the package instructions on your cleaner.
Even if your hat's tag says it's bleach-safe, do a spot test. Check the inside of the hat or another area that doesn't show when you wear your hat. Apply a small spot of bleach as directed and see if the fabric changes color drastically over time.
Once you know it's safe to bleach a white hat, either hand-wash or machine wash it. For the machine, add a little bit of bleach as directed to the wash. If you're spot cleaning or hand-washing your hat with bleach, follow these steps:
- Mix a solution of water and bleach. One part bleach to two parts water is often best, but check the bottle for recommendations.
- Dab the solution onto the stain with a cotton swab for an accurate application.
- Moisten the stain with the bleach solution.
- If it's a stubborn stain, allow the solution to sit for five to 10 minutes.
- Don't let the solution sit if your fabric is more delicate.
- Rinse the bleach away, hand-wash or machine wash the hat by itself.
Sometimes, at-home solutions aren't the right way to wash a white hat. In that case, professionals are ready to help. Research options for professional hat cleaning and maintenance in your area and see if they could help you with things like:
- Deep cleaning
- Set-in stains
- All-over stains
- Dingy appearance
You'll need professional care, anyway, for dry-clean-only hats, so you may as well bring others if they have stains.
What Not to Do When Cleaning a White Hat
While it's useful to know how to get stains out of a white hat and wash it, it's also essential to know what not to do. You may have come across incorrect advice for cleaning hats in the past, or you want to know what to avoid when cleaning your hats. When it comes to caring for and washing a white hat, here are some don'ts to observe.
- Wash your hat in the dishwasher: Unsurprisingly, your dishwasher is for dishes. The high water pressure will ruin your hat, no matter how sturdy you think it is. The only exception to this is if you use a baseball cap shaper, designed to help a ball cap keep its shape, even in a dishwasher.
- Use bleach on hats with colorful details: Some white hats feature colorful stitching, hat decorations or hatbands. Avoid cleaning these styles with bleach, as you could discolor the details. Choose detergents that are safe for whites and colors.
- Ignore the tag: If your hat says it needs dry cleaning only or hand-washing, don't disregard that advice. You could ruin your hat if you ignore the tag, and the stains may not even come out.
- Wash without inspecting your hat: Check that you have a quality hat before putting it in the washer or soaking it. Make sure the stitches aren't loose or coming undone — rough washing could undo that stitching.
- Dry in the dryer: While you can machine wash some hats, machine drying is never a good idea. Instead, put your hat in a well-ventilated area. A drying rack circulates air around the hat and helps it dry evenly.
- Dry in direct sunlight: Sunlight fades hats, even white ones. When it's time to dry your hat, avoid putting it outside. You don't need to dry it in a dark room of your house, though. Air dry your hat indoors as long as it isn't right in the sun's path.
- Store your hat when it's still damp: Putting away any clothes before they're dry isn't a good idea. They'll develop a musty smell or become wrinkled, and the same is true for your hat. Let it air dry fully before putting it in storage. For beanies and hats that lay flat, move and flip them as they dry for even drying.
- Store your hat in a plastic bag: Plastic isn't breathable. It'll lead to moisture buildup that could damage materials like leather or suede. That lets mildew or mold grow, as well, which will ruin your hat. If you do want to cover your hat and protect it from dust, use cotton or another breathable material.
How to Keep Your Hat Clean in the First Place
It may be easy to clean a white hat in many cases, but if you have a delicate hat or want to avoid stains, know how to keep your hat clean in the first place. A handful of precautions could save you the trouble of getting stains out of a white hat.
- Pack it properly: Dropping your hat as you're traveling could lead to stains. Knowing how to pack your hat will keep it safe in your suitcase, but you must do it right. You can roll some hats, but others need to maintain their shape. In those cases, stuff the crown with clean socks or rolled-up shirts. If your hat doesn't fit in a suitcase, ship it in a hatbox to keep it safe.
- Don't sweat it: A lot of people wear hats in the summer, but heat leads to sweating, and sweating stains a white hat. If you want to wear a hat out in the sun or while exercising or you want to protect your hat, try hat liners. These products are absorbent, usually disposable, patches that stick inside your hat. They can catch the sweat and prevent it from soaking in and staining your hat.
- Think about where you're going: If you're heading somewhere that's dusty or muddy, consider wearing a darker hat. You wouldn't want to drop your white hat or have dust and dirt get onto it while you're out. You should also think about windy conditions, especially if your hat isn't a snug fit. You don't want to chase after your white hat, only to have it end up getting stained in the mud.
- Handle it carefully: Before you put on or take off your white hat, make sure your hands are clean. You wouldn't want to put on your hat, then realize too late that you had something on your hands that'll create a stain. Check that wherever you store your hat is clean before putting it away, as well.
- Wipe it off after wearing: Even if you don't think you sweat or got any dust or dirt on your white hat, wipe it off. Take a clean, damp, white cloth if that's suitable for your hat's fabric. Use a dry cloth if the fabric shouldn't get wet. Then, gently wipe the inside of the hat.
- Dry the interior band: After wearing, you may notice sweat or moisture on the hat's interior band. Wipe it with a dry, white cloth, then flip the band down if you can. That lets it air out and dry when you aren't wearing your hat.
Shop at Hats Unlimited
Whether you need to replace your old white hat or want something new for your collection, shop our selection at Hats Unlimited. With our priorities in value and service and over 1,000 hat styles to choose from, you know you'll find what you need. Get anything from stylish fashion trends to fun accessories in vivid whites and an array of colors when you shop with Hats Unlimited.
*DISCLAIMER - We take no responsibility for the damage to any hats while using the methods described in this article.*